Only twenty two hours to spend in Melbourne with our friends D. and T., their son Milo and spoodle Mimi we right away nickname the hopping dog — I have never seen a dog jump that high before. Too quick, too short. A real challenge for us who love to spend time together, especially in such a fantastic city. Have you been to Melbourne before? Me? I love it! I have already visited this Australian city three times, and with every stay, I love it more.
We have a few hours to rest, shower and we are off to Fitzroy. To tell the truth, I have no idea where we are going. I just follow. But as soon as we arrive in this lively neighborhood of Melbourne, I know well why T. decides to take us here. With a mix of artistic, trendy and bohemian touches, Fitzroy offers a panel of interesting cafés and restaurants, art galleries, bookstores and boutiques with modern or retro clothes. And people to watch. Shortly after we park the car in the street, we walk into a small café to have lunch. I forget its name — Gertrude Street Enoteca T. reminds me later — but clearly remember the lines of wine bottles held on every single wall. “This is a wine bar,” T. whispers in my ear. They come from everywhere. When we look at the long wine list, we cannot decide on any until P. says louder than usual “They have Lillet!” “What is that?” D. asks. “Oh, you just have to try!” “Two Lillets, please,” we ask the waitress. The Vegetable Panini and Wagyu Meat — known also as Kobe-style Beef — are good too. For the first few minutes, I cannot speak much because I am too hungry. But after a few bites swallowed greedily, I am able to relax and slow down. My friend T. leans towards me and then, she smiles when she tells me that next door, there is in fact a specialized cookbook store. “A what?” “Non, ce n’est pas vrai !” I answer with my eyes getting bigger, expressing the excitement her words create. Not only is she a wonderful cook, but she is the best of friends to know me that well. We stand up, look at each other and tell P. and D. that we are going for a walk. “Where?” D. asks. “Just to the bookstore next door.” “How long will you be there for?” he adds. “Hours“, we respond with cunning smiles.
229 Gertrude St
Walking in Books for Cooks is like giving a treat to a dog. I am so excited that I cannot focus on any book at all, going from one to the other quickly, scared to miss something. Cookbooks of all sorts, sorted by cuisine genre, theme or country, are neatly displayed on large tables in the center of the store and in the shelves covering every wall. I even find cookbooks in French. One room offers comfortable armchairs for customers, making the place feel as if you were sitting in someone’s living-room. I start thinking about my suitcase and know well that I cannot carry too much more than I already have. But I can certainly not leave the bookstore without buying anything. A few slim ones will do. And so, because I am in Australia and I am such a big fan of Australian cookbooks, I settle for a few cookbooks of Vogue Entertaining, probably harder to find in the US. T. as well — and at that point, I do not know that her purchase will end up in my suitcase too. Do you call this being spoiled? I think so too.
233-235 Gertrude Street
Leaving the bookstore, we decide to walk home and wander the streets at a slow pace, talking fast to try to catch up as much as we can in such a short time, looking everywhere too to embrace the place. Because I feel a sudden urge for chocolate — two dark pieces after lunch are really a routine of mine — we stop at San Churro Chocolateria. I buy three 70% chocolate bars, but T. tells me of Kokoblack, a better chocolate niche further. But I cannot wait and we eventually settle for this one, even if it does not rank as a favorite. Not dark enough. I am, however, attracted by the front window, where my eyes cannot detach from a plate full of churros with chocolate sauce on the side. They look so tempting. In the back, the shiny metallic churros machine is turned off, but I can discern some unused pastry crying to be baked. I wish I could jump on the other side of the counter to turn it on, as operating the complex-looking device sounds fun. We move on, however.
227 Brunswick Street
“What is your favorite food?” we ask Milo who is only five years old. “SUSHI!” he responds at full blast, in his Australian accent.
We burst out laughing and impressed, even more so when T. adds that Milo is all about quality food unlike many other kids of his age turning their nose away from most off-the-beaten-path foods. “Seafood is good for you!“, he adds amused by our reaction. So, when later in the day we are meeting another New Zealand friend for a Cantonese dinner, we know that Milo — and us too — will love it. We drive to Lau’s Family Restaurant in another neighborhood across town, a place run by the same family managing the upmarket, highly praised Flower Drum. When we arrive by 6 p.m., the place is still quiet, unlike its usual as booking a table, T. adds, can be a challenge.
The service is impeccable and attentive, so much so that we feel as if they think that we are some sort of restaurant critics. We order a sampling menu, leaving it to the chef to decide. A few appetizers and main courses keep coming to the table rapidly. We skip dessert. The food — tempura, various fish, meat, fried rice and vegetables — is simple but good as all of the ingredients are extremely fresh. Two hours is so short to be able to catch up on the news since the last time we have met, but we leave content all the same, with the promise to meet again soon. And fully confident that it will happen in the near future, even if Australia seems at the other end of the globe for us living on the American east coast. Next time, however, we will make sure to spend more than one day. Melbourne and our friends are fully worth it. Within less than one day, I already understand how much love for good food there is to be found in Melbourne.
4 Acland St
St Kilda, Victoria